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What We Take For Granted

September 10, 2015

The Capital Region is famous for a few things, but almost none of them involve food. And that’s okay. We do have a small handful of specialties from the area that haven’t quite taken off beyond our borders. It’s really understandable since these unique offerings are mostly different forms of other foods.

Fried fish is cut long and thin for Albany’s Fish Fry. Mozzarella sticks lose their herb coating and are paired with raspberry sauce for our local version. The Coneys of Michigan are shrunk down to three inches for our take on hot dogs.

But it’s often the case that a city’s most famous food isn’t its best.

Philly’s cheesesteaks aren’t as good as its Italian pork sandwiches. San Francisco’s sourdough isn’t a special as the city’s dim sum parlors. Miami’s Cuban sandwiches are bested by the croqueta preparada.

So what are we overlooking here?

I’ve had pizza on the mind lately. Not just any pizza, but specifically New York Style slices. For my money, do you know the best place to go for that dish? New Jersey. I’m serious. There are so many great pizza places in the Garden State that if you aren’t great, you’re going under. The standard level of NY style slice shops is incredibly high.

In Jersey, there aren’t any tourists going around propping up the places in Times Square because they think all pizza in NYC has to be great. There aren’t the same number of desk jockeys who have to eat whatever is within arms reach. There aren’t those $1 corner slice shops lowering the average level of pizza.

Yet NYC gets all the fame. Which isn’t to say New York doesn’t deserve it. But that’s a debate for another time.

In Albany, we live in the shadow of Buffalo. But dammit, we have great freaking wings. Do our best places top the kings of Buffalo? That’s not what I’m saying.

I’m saying that here, we take great wings for granted. Your chances of walking into any random spot and asking for 10 wings, hot and crispy, is going to get you a mighty tasty basket of wings. Most likely better than you would find in any of the other 49 states.

It’s no coincidence that Buffalo wings are an integral part of the local tavern culture, which is also highly underrated.

We’ve got new places opening up all the time. Some places are even expanding the horizons of what food can be, and that fills me with lots of joy. But let’s not forget where this area has come from, and those things that continue to make is special. Even if you may be able to find better versions of them elsewhere.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2015 11:19 am

    13 months into the Capital Region and I’ve yet to find a real good pizza. Best of the bunch were DiFazios (love, love, love the wood fired char but why is the crust so thick?) and, even with the weird square pseudo-pan style, Testo’s. No place around seems to be able to make a true, thin crust, fold in half NYC style pizza.

    Also, what is with the strange sizing? Pizzas are small, medium, and large. Is it some Capital Region thing to label them as 6-cut, 8-cut, 10-cut etc..?? I never know what to order because they all have their own interpretation and I never know what it truly means. I’m thinking it’s a bizarro action just to try and manufacture some sort of regional food distinction like the mini hot dogs and raspberry sauce. I’ll just take my hot dogs full sized and my mozzarella sticks with marinara if you don’t mind. And for the love of God, marinara does NOT have ground up meat in it. That’s called tomato sauce. Marinara is vegetarian.

    I swear my true calling to come up here was to open a real Italian pizzeria….

    • September 10, 2015 12:21 pm

      Do it. But before you take the plunge, you might want to read this:

      • September 10, 2015 9:54 pm

        I think that just about sums up most found around here. Culinarily depressed area all around.

    • -R. permalink
      September 10, 2015 12:40 pm

      Give Cousin’s Pizza on New Scotland across from St. Peter’s a try. They make a nice, non-screen, about as thin as you’ll find around here pie using decent quality ingredients – nothing too fancy, just a simple pie. My only complaint with them is that they can be inconsistent occasionally, however that’s true with just about all pizza joints.

      • Kerosena permalink
        September 11, 2015 10:52 am

        I second this recommendation. Cousins is becoming my favorite nearby go-to for slices and pies. I really like their crust/sauce/cheese ratio (pretty thin/ not too much/a lot).

    • albanylandlord permalink
      September 10, 2015 5:10 pm

      Lots of great Pizza places, but plenty of local corner ones that aren’t so great. I assume you have read about the Pizza place comparisons at this blog and other places to know where to try? Among the contest winners Marissa’s is in my neck of the woods so that is my favorite pizza place. But my favorite – by far – pizza doesn’t come from a pizza place, it comes from the Gastropub on New Scotland in Albany. If your enjoy thin crispy crust and don’t mind just a few choices check that one out.

    • September 10, 2015 9:51 pm

      I very nearly forgot: the pizza at Ali Baba’s in Troy was damn good. Little on the thick, chewy side but its not trying to be an Italian style. The topping are key for them.

  2. September 10, 2015 12:22 pm

    I think you are confused. The “Michigan” is native to the North Country (also popular in Canada). It has nothing to do with actual Michigan and no one quite knows why it got the name. In Michigan one might call a Michigan a “coney” though… And a coney is fairly similar to a Michigan.

    • September 10, 2015 12:29 pm

      That’s what I was saying. Maybe I was being too clever for my own good by trying to be both illustrative and cute. The Coneys of Detroit are similar to the Michigans of the North Country. While the chili sauces may have their own variations, at their heart, both are hot dogs, with onions, mustard, and chili sauce. It’s hard to not see them all as related.

      And in Rhode Island, these hairy-arm dogs with the same topping roster are defined as the “New York System”.

      • September 10, 2015 1:03 pm

        They are all related. We have our lovely Greek friends to thank for this entire hot dog genre. I was picking nits, you know, because this is the home of fuss and all.

        I had Rhode Island dogs at the Big E a while ago. I like them. There length is somewhere between a mini-dog and a full size which I thought was interesting.

  3. buffsoulja permalink
    September 10, 2015 6:02 pm

    Decent NYS – style pizza in the area include: I Love NY (Troy location), Central Pizza (Colonie), Marissa’s (Guilderland), Pizza King (Schenectady), Venezia’s (Clifton Park), Villa Pizza (Clifton Park mall) and Pope’s (Saratoga).

    Albany is the place that needs a good NYS style slice. Jonathan’s and Sapienza on Pearl used to be the spot but alas is no longer the case.

    But the best pizza in Albany is not NYS style. it is hearty, gooey, tavern pies.

    • September 10, 2015 9:54 pm

      In all fairness I shouldn’t have to drive 30 minutes + for a pizza.

      • Jack C. permalink
        September 11, 2015 12:45 pm

        Where on Earth do you live? If you live in downtown Albany, all of those places (except Pope’s) are within 30 minutes, barring traffic. Even with traffic, it should never take you 30+ to get to Troy or Colonie or Guilderland.

      • September 11, 2015 11:27 pm

        I’m in Troy so yes, Schenectady and Saratoga are 30+ minutes.

  4. September 12, 2015 6:42 am

    So I’m still not getting why Albany should have to produce a particular style of pizza to qualify as a place that has good pizza, or good food in general.

    Why do people constantly attack Albany as a culinary backwater for not having their favorite foods? Thousands of other cities and towns around the world do not have these foods. Honestly people – come to a mature understanding that what you learned to love at home is not going to offered everywhere.

    Put on your big boy pants and learn what is good about where you live now.

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